The ephemeral sunshine of the timeless kind
Weather in Amsterdam may not be hot, but it is by far the hottest discussion topic. Checking the weather forecast has attained the status of a proper ritual, practiced on a more-than-regular basis throughout the week by a vast number of followers.
For someone from a Mediterranean country like me, it is sometimes hard to fully comprehend this phenomenon. It seems to resemble times in antiquity when people would turn to clairvoyants in order to come to terms with the unknown.
The unpredictable Dutch weather
The parallel is not unfounded. It is precisely the fear of the unknown, or at least the uneasiness about the non-predictable, that seems to drive people here to constantly consult websites and phone apps in order to get the coveted oracle.
Not so surprising if you think how well-organised and neatly arranged all other daily affairs are in every self-respecting Dutch person’s agenda. Meetings, dates, activities, etc. are all tidily planned and waiting to be ticked off the checklist. But the thorny issue of unpredictable weather conditions hangs over like a spectre over all those meticulously planned schedules, threatening their very implementation with its chaotic nature and character.
In one of his short stories, Remco Campert (b. 1929) writes: "We talked about the weather. It was either too warm or too cold in Holland, he said. In between it rained." This tiny passage is something considerably more than a mere depiction of Dutch climate. It is a revealing insight into the native psyche. It says way more about the mentality of the commentator than about the actual Dutch weather. There are apparent undertones of weather-related misery and annoyance.
Furthermore, the statement epitomises the dominant attitude towards the Dutch rainfall, proclaiming and at the same time depreciating it as the ultimate banal phenomenon. Rain is never considered a pleasant surprise or a much needed refreshing break, as is the case in warmer climates. It is instead an integral part of everyday life and the local routine.
The occurrence of sunshine in Holland
And yet, sometimes the miracle (i.e. sunshine) does occur. And its glorious messengers are no others than all those female locals who, en masse and without prior communication, as in a mystical conspiracy, start wandering around wearing skirts with their legs bare underneath.
This is of course rokjesdag ("skirt day"), popularised by Dutch writer and columnist Martin Bril (1959-2009) through his pieces, and is inextricably linked to the coming of spring and the subsequent opening up of the general mood.
But regardless of season, the occurrence of sunshine in Holland is always an event of exceptional status, as testified by headlines and news coverage over this last summer. Or should I write "summer?" In any case, it is because of its scarcity and non-banality (as opposed to rain) that Dutch sunshine has always been regarded such a unique opportunity to celebrate life in this otherwise rainy and somewhat gloomy place.
Embrace the "wet" reality
The true challenge however is to apply the all-too-obvious carpe diem not only on those glorious sunny days, but also during the not so popular showery and occasionally stormy times. To try and embrace all the tiny drops that make up much of the dampness that is Holland. To reconcile with the fact that the reality here is wet - which, by the way, accounts for all the sun worship.
After all, it is precisely its ephemeral nature that gives Dutch sunshine its immense value and widespread appreciation. And it does so timelessly.
› Remco Campert - Alle dagen feest (De Bezige Bij, 1999)
› Martin Bril - Rokjesdag (Prometheus, 2010)